Saturday, November 25, 1995
Your Royal Highness
It is with a very special sense of happiness that I open today the sixth prize-giving ceremony of
the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. Since the birth of this Award, eighteen years have passed, and if that is the age of adulthood, then all of us gathered here this evening are witnessing an
inspiring event: the growth into maturity of a vision. This vision, like the tantalizing mirage of
water across desert sands was, in reality, a search, and that search was inspired by one question:
How to develop new, better, and more appropriate directions for building the physical
environment of Muslims and those amongst whom they live.
Let me welcome you all, then to this celebration. I am particularly happy to see in our midst so
many distinguished representatives from the Central Asian Republics, repositories of so much of
our built cultural heritage. I thank them and you all for having agreed to join in our rejoicing. It
is hard to imagine a setting more engaging than this palace for a ceremony that celebrates the
humanity of an inspired architecture. I am deeply grateful Your Royal Highness, to you, your
family and the members of the Karaton, for your enormous generosity in making it possible for
us to be here this evening. I am also most grateful to the President and Government of Indonesia,
to its Ministers and their staff, to the Indonesian Institute of Architects, and to the people of Solo
and Yogyakarta who have helped us in so many valuable ways.
If this Award was born, as I have said, from a notion of search, it mirrored in many ways the
forces that drive mankind to explore: a sense that what is already there is somehow insufficient,
and a conviction that new endeavour will discover what might be more desirable. Eighteen years
ago I shared with a small number of Muslim thinkers a simple, but multi-faceted question: have
the Muslim civilizations of today lost the capability to produce great architecture?
Every three years we gather, in a special and important setting in the Muslim world, to highlight
publicly our Award winners, those premiated beacons which have best responded to our search
for great architecture; and to renew our understanding of the goals to be sought in our travels.
The twelve projects being honoured tonight bring to sixty-nine the total number of buildings and
places to have received the Award since we began our journey. Our debt to those responsible for
these projects is incalculable. The architects, planners, builders, crafts people and sponsors of
these projects have provided us all with hard evidence that excellence and relevance in the built
environment are achievable goals all over the Islamic world. I congratulate them most sincerely.
The Master Juries in every cycle of the Award, act with singular independence, energy and
imagination. They challenge and challenge anew, earlier notions within the Award, as well as
those of the constituencies the Award addresses. I am grateful to the members of the Master Jury
for this sixth cycle who have reinforced and greatly enhanced this tradition. In the selections
they have made, we will see buildings and places that are humane, resourceful and eloquent.
They have eschewed monumentalism. the projects they have selected address central concerns in
Muslim societies, indeed problems that also face other societies throughout the world. For this
cycle, the Award's Steering Committee made the task of the Master Jury even more challenging
by bringing forward for the Jury's consideration nearly twice as many nominated projects.
This Master Jury has also requested that an important departure be made in this cycle. They
asked that their proceedings be transcribed and available to scholars in the future as evidence of
the Jury's discourse and debate. Excerpts of this debate are available in published form today,
and they reveal the fascinating and serious path of challenge and response that led to the Jury's
selection. This new transparency of the debate that underlies the Jury's decisions is novel and
welcome. Beyond transparency, the intention is to highlight the multiple levels at which the
significance of the winners can be appreciated. It is a strong reminder that the broader value of
the Award winners is not as final, definitive solutions to be replicated, but as triggers to fire
enriching debate, and to generate other exciting solutions.
Finally, the members of the Master Jury make a crucial and extremely positive proposal. they
state that directions for architecture and the built environment that you will see tonight in the
twelve winning projects are directions that should be examined throughout the world, and not
only within the Muslim world. They first argue persuasively that there are universal issues facing
the world at this time. Everywhere we seem to find rising inequities in societies, an emerging
urban under-class , homelessness, and strife between neighbours, as well as growing
environmental degradation, the sense of alienation in mega-cities that are no longer humane, and
the avalanche of images that destroy identity.
The Jury believes that these issues, which are felt with particular force in the Muslim world, can
be fruitfully addressed through the critical social and architectural discourse reflected in these
It is important to understand that we should not take the message to be that architecture can, of
itself be a remedy or solution to these issues. Rather, we should understand that such remedies or
solutions will be faithfully informed by a critical social and architectural discourse that is
conducted with comparable values, at as deep a level, and within the same space of freedom as
led to the creation of these winning projects. I am deeply heartened by this message as I am by
the Jury's second statement, which concerns architecture itself, as practised throughout the
world: More emphatically than ever before in the history of the Award, the Jury is affirming that
the projects they have selected demonstrate the ability of the Islamic world to address with deep
competence the major thematic challenges and problems of change in the built environment of
our entire world:
The rehabilitation of historic urban spaces, the rejuvenation of their economic base, the
integration of difference communities and the opening up of incremental opportunities to the
homeless, all addressed by our winners, indicate directions on how to replace urban decay and
social chaos with humane environments. The thoughtful symbolism of architectural language
from office building to Mosque to rural hospital, all engage our emotions and our dreams. This
is what these winners show.
They do not therefore represent solutions developed within the Muslim world and exclusively
specific to it, but constitute very high-quality solutions to universal problems from which even
the most economically advanced societies may take example and profitable insight.
I interpret this view of the Jury to mean that during the life-time of the Award -- 18 years -- some
of the approaches and solutions of the Muslim world, as judged from those premiated buildings
of this cycle, have reached the competence and sophistication to deserve world-wide
recognition. It is a statement of cultural strength and quality in the built environment of
Muslims, which must have immense importance for the Islamic world, its view of itself, and the
way non-Muslims will view it today and in the future. It illustrates that by using its inherited
cultural talents from its built environment, and those of other cultures appropriately harnessed
and by using its own ethical vision, and its artistic, ethnic and geographic plurality, the Muslim
world anc reinvigorate its historical architectural and art forms, such that they once again
represent a significant contribution to world culture.
This could be a massively powerful message of hope to our Muslim world It deepens the
legitimacy of the Award's attention to pluralism across that world. It validates our unflinching
confidence in the creativity of Muslims and others, to design for that world in a way that will
inspire the future without resorting to mimicry of the past. It deepens our conviction -- along
with that of the Jury members - that spirituality and architecture, together, become a force that
can build bridges between people and communities, and empower them to build a more
harmonious and humane future.
I believe that such a message of hope, predicated on the outstanding examples of what has been
achieved in the built environment of the Muslim world, can be extended to other central themes
in the lives of Muslims today, their societies and their countries. The proper application of the
premises which the Award has demonstrated - a trust in pluralism, a confidence in unfettered
debate, a rejoicing in innovation, a deep respect for cultural and physical resources could well be
the basis for developing new approaches to other central needs in these same societies. I have In
mind such issues as the appropriate role of civil society; or the desirable size and qualities of
modern pluralistic government; or the establishment of new premises for ethical social and
economic attitudes in the world's free market economies of tomorrow.
Let me draw my remarks to a close by paying special tribute to the architect, planners, authors,
and activists who brought such extraordinary skill to the creation of these twelve projects which
we honour today. Let me also salute the wisdom and tenacity of the communities and clients that
sponsored these projects.
Tonight the twelve projects we premiate are recognised for their own remarkable qualities. But
that is not all. These winners have been judged by eyes and minds deeply respected throughout
the world. The Jury has, throughout its choice and wish, elevated the debate on architecture for
Muslim societies to a world level, recommending that those addressing worldwide issues of
physical change should seek inspiration from tonight's winners. Buildings for Muslims - after
many decades of eclipse - are once again in the front row of thinking and design in man's
endeavour to improve and embellish the buildings and spaces in which he lives and works.
Perhaps today, therefore, we are witnessing the coming of age of the Muslim world's rejuvenated
ability to build exceptionally. And with this feat, the Award too has achieved adulthood, and
therefrom greater strength to pursue its journey.
Your Royal Highness, honourable ministers, your excellencies, distinguished guests, please
accept again my warm thanks for joining us this evening.
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